Mark Richardson’s Hunt for the Troll is a step up from ordinary pulp. It’s what happens to San Francisco noir when the shiny new promise of Silicon Valley comes to town, pushing back the fog to play some light in the corners. In this case, the light is more ominous than the dark. Our comfortable eyes, adjusted to the power outage, are burned by the glare when the lights go on.

hfttGone is the reluctant hero and snubnose pistol; in their place are dot.com entrepreneurism and quantum computing. Gone are the troubled dame and her leggy needs; in their place are the chessboard and another step toward transhumanism.

The narrator’s a cipher, a man without a name, an identity tattooed on his arm in binary code and a bad-ass alter-ego in the gaming world of Centre Terrain. He’s king and serf in his own domain, part creator and part creation. His story proceeds between worlds: the real world of breakfasts and sex; the gaming paradise he helped build, not unlike a Tolkien wet dream; and that place between sleep and wakefulness that isn’t a dream but nor is it quite real. Is it?

CONTINUED

His quest, moving frequently in and out of the three worlds, is to track down the eponymous troll and make him explain the cryptic assertion that sets all this in motion: We’re going to change the world.

“Typically a processor is installed in a computing device—a laptop, a cell phone, tablet…” In this case the processor, a neural processor, is grafted directly onto the narrator’s brain. He isn’t alone. His freakishly hot lover has the device; his stoner tech journalist friend understands the installation; his employer, gaming company Centre Terrain, paid him 100k to have it put in. It must be ok. It makes him better at what he does. It enhances his ability to think and see and experience, regardless of which world he’s in. What could go wrong?

The narrative proceeds at a good clip, avoids bogging down too heavily in the necessary philosophy, trips over a few clichés (“raining cats and dogs”), and always in the back of the mind is the neural processor: “We’ll effectively become almost interchangeable with technology, another type of hardware to be upgraded and improved.” Avert your eyes. Take comfort in the fog.

Cyber-mystery and crime caper rolled into one, with dreams straight out of The Big Lebowski and foggy hallucinations worthy of One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ Nest (“…It’s the truth even if it didn’t happen…”) Hunt for the Troll offers a glimpse at the direction of mankind.

Grab your favorite cocktail—with a lime-twist of crime—and let your mind expand.